Friday, September 25, 2009

Grandparents' Day

My heart is breaking a little for the kid today.

Every year, Ainsley's school has one day where they invite grandparents in for a morning mass, a special activity with the kids, and a picnic lunch.

This year, Ainsley has no grandparent to do all this with.

The only surviving grandparent Ains has is my mom, a non-Catholic who doesn't feel comfortable attending mass without one of her Catholic daughters to guide her through, and who also does not feel comfortable driving by herself to Ainsley's school, which she perceives as being on "bad roads." (Never mind that these are the same roads I drive every single day, and which are veritable interstates compared to the rural Knox County roads she learned to drive on.) Mom is also frequently out of town the last weekend in September, and is leaving this morning for a field trip of her own. So on Grandparents' Day...well, Ainsley's out of luck.

It makes today a little rough for me. Last year, Jason's mom had initially agreed to come to the event because she had done similar things for a couple of the other grandkids. But in the week before, she had struggled getting over a cold and backed out because she wasn't quite up to it yet.

She felt really awful and got upset because she thought she was letting Ainsley down. We said something at the time like, "Maybe next year." And now it's "next year", and she's no longer with us.

It's the little things like that that get you sometimes.

They must be talking about grandparents' roles in our families in her class, because she's been asking a lot of questions. Questions about her "Peepaw", the nickname her older cousins called Kathie's beloved husband and Jason's stepfather and who Ainsley never had the pleasure of knowing. Questions about her great-grandfathers, including some I can't answer because I never knew Dad's dad and Mom's dad died when I was three. And finally, questions that hurt because they're about the two grandparents she remembers losing.

"Did Papaw smoke?" Ainsley asked yesterday at snack time. "Papaw" was what she called my dad. We've been really honest with her about Kathie's illness and told her that it was caused by "Meemaw" having bad lungs to begin with and smoking for years anyway. Since Ainsley has asthma, I have no shame in using "two of your grandparents died from smoking-related illnesses" as a scare tactic.

"Yes, he did," I told her. "He smoked for a long time, but he quit smoking a few years before you were born because he got lung cancer. But he beat that. The cancer he died from was probably caused by his smoking, too, even though he had quit for years. But it was even worse than the lung cancer and he couldn't beat it."

She thought for a minute.

"Don't tell me," she said. "He died of breast cancer, right?"

Go ahead. Start to explain that one to a seven-year-old. I bet you start by saying, "Men don't get breast cancer," but then you'll remember Montel Williams, and then your brain will freeze. I had to make a lot of verbal u-turns in that conversation.

This morning she just seemed a little quieter than usual. When I asked her on the way to school if things were okay, she just said,

"I hope someone has an extra grandparent today that I can share."

Try not to break out in sobs when your little doe-eyed, pony-tailed girl tells you that. I dare you.

At her age, my 2 surviving grandparents wouldn't have been able to come to something like that, either. At that time, they were both in pretty good health, but they lived 3 hours away. And here's where I get a little frustrated with the idea of a school-wide Grandparents' Day--there are some kids like that. Kids whose grandparents, for whatever reason, can't come up and spend 3 hours at an elementary school on a Friday morning. Some parents did not grow up here and therefore the grandparents may be miles and miles away. Younger grandparents may work and in this economy, it's not always possible to take off, and older grandparents may not be around or physically able to get to the school. Those kids are going to feel a little left out today.

I think my kid should be taught to value grandparents and the wisdom and love that they give. I am glad they are discussing extended families in her school. But I am troubled that the focus of the entire first half of the day today is inviting grandparents into school to do fun things with the kids who invited them. I think they should have made this be an optional evening activity where those with able-bodied grandparents could come and have a blast honoring their elders, but those who don't have participatory grandparents could have opted out. Especially with the wound of losing a grandparent still being a little raw, I feel like we just set up my kid to have a pretty miserable, lonely day today.

However, I don't believe in rocking the boat, and I'll keep my mouth shut and let the school do its thing. But don't judge me if I take Ainsley for a Frosty after school to make up for her not having a grandparent doting on her at school today.

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